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Story - Education

Sep 8, 2009 8:05 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Obama's speech to students will be shown at EH Middle School after uproar

Sep 8, 2009 8:05 PM

President Barack Obama’s televised speech to students across the United States, which has drawn heavy criticism from Republicans, was not shown live at the East Hampton Middle School on Tuesday. But even though the school’s principal said it would be shown in social studies classes on Wednesday, many people have expressed outrage at what they say is an attempt to censor the president’s speech.

The national media has had a field day following the controversy that began during a traditionally slow news cycle before Congress returned to session this week when some Republican pundits blasted the education secretary’s request that after listening to the speech students should be directed to write an essay about what they would do “to help the president.” Despite the criticism, the speech has drawn support from former Republican Congressman and conservative leader Newt Gingrich who has described it as an appropriate one for students, and former First Lady Laura Bush.

In his speech, the text of which was released by the White House this week, the president encouraged students to work hard, get a good eduction and serve their country, but middle school principal Thomas Lamorgese said that at least a dozen parents had told him they didn’t want their children to watch the speech. He said that he had initially agreed to air the speech live, but when he learned that it would be broadcast at noon, during the students’ lunch hour, he decided to show the speech the following day.

He added that about two dozen other people have e-mailed him in protest, calling him everything from a racist to a Nazi.

“They were upset as they thought the president would attempt talking politics,” he said of parents who didn’t want their kids to see the speech. He cited health care and “socialist causes” as the primary complaints. He added that those parents will be allowed to have their children opt out from hearing the speech in their social studies class. “I never realized how passionate people are about the issues on both sides. He is our president and whether you like him or not we should be able to hear him,” he said.

East Hampton School District Superintendent Ray Gaultieri said that much of the controversy stemmed from a brief e-mail from Dr. Lamorgese to school officials that was forwarded from one end of town to the other over the Labor Day weekend.

That e-mail simply stated, “Hi All, As President Obama’s speech has generated so much controversy, please have it recorded and it can be shown at a later date as appropriate.”

“It wasn’t the president’s speech that was controversial it was that we had parents that didn’t want their children to see the president’s speech that was controversial,” said Dr. Gaultieri.

“We are accommodating those parents. They have the right to request that their children be excused from watching his speech. Just as we have parents that don’t want their kids to take sex education, or who want their kids to opt out of certain science lessons. They have the right,” he added.

Dr. Gaultieri said that all students who don’t opt out in grades 3 through 12 will see the speech by the end of the day on Wednesday.

“I’ve gotten e-mails that said the middle school principal was a racist. But Tom Lamorgese worked for the Obama campaign,” he said. “This is just a rumor that’s gotten worse and worse.”

Larry Smith of Montauk claimed credit for forwarding the e-mail that began the controversy.

“This is outrageous. Is this the America that we want? We must react to this horrible lesson in civics and citizenship,” he said in an e-mail exchange on Monday. “This is not about politics, it is about democracy, free speech and respect for the president of our nation.

“Some asked if I had a child in school. My answer is ‘no,’ but I have paid school taxes in this town for 35 years, but even if I hadn’t, this issue transcends local self interest,” he continued. “This is about respect for our government and the core principles of openness, free expression and basic civil and human rights.

“‘Controversy’ is not a term that should justify censorship or worse in this community and country. Controversy is an opportunity for all of us to discuss with respect views that we all might not share. This must be the lesson for our children,” he added. “There is a movement in this country now to minimize our president and to intimidate our public officials and educators. We cannot let this happen and we must continue to be vigilant to the intrusions in our national politic of these practitioners of separation, discord and bigotry.”

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I am sure that the majority of parents with children in East Hampton Middle School were more than happy to have their kids watch the President speak of such important issues to our kids. So why is it that the school decided to err on the side of ignorance, hate and fear? What message does it send to the school children to say we will not join the rest of the country and watch the speech live? The kids could simply have opted out and went to a study session in the cafeteria.

Mr. Gaultieri, ...more
By dagdavid (646), southampton on Sep 8, 09 9:31 PM
1 member liked this comment
If parents are so afraid that their children will form their own
opinions from listening to President Obama then they should
have removed their children from the school, period! Why
should the rest of the students be held back from listening
to a speech when it is aired? When did we as a democracy
bow down to the demands of the ignorant few?
By mayqueen27 (2), Sag Harbor on Sep 8, 09 9:52 PM
my how times change. the democratic congress in 1991 investigated and held hearings after gwb spoke to school children. dems like dick gephardt stated that bush was setting up a theatre in the school and using the kids for props, and the state run media assailed bush. my how times have changed. you can bet every red penny that the entire production was re-written once the spotlight was shown on chairman o's rant. rightly so, the study guide was delted, relieving children from having to write ...more
By hamptons surfer (79), southampton on Sep 9, 09 5:37 AM
The difference in 1991 is that schools did not refuse to show the speech. You want to be a moral compass for your kids - go ahead, but don't interfere in the lives of others with - you said it, your bigoted, fearful, small-minded, ignorance. This school chose to listen to 12 parents!! GIve me a break. They were given the presidents speech ahead of time and they knew exactly what it was going to say. Forget the conspiracy crap from Glen Beck watchers like hamptons surfer.
By yearrounder (208), Southampton on Sep 9, 09 8:14 AM
Hamptons Surfer, Dick Gebhart is/was a weenie, obviously, AND hearings/investigations, if they happened (you didn't source your claim) shouldn't have. If a president chooses to make a speech to school children, it gets shown. Period. I don't care who the president is. Today, we have GOP weenies like Jim Greer of Florida saying Tuesday, September 1st, 2009 in a press release:

"Schoolchildren across the nation "will be forced to watch the president justify his plans for government-run health ...more
By Undertow (64), Southampton on Sep 9, 09 8:27 AM
FURTHER, I really think that some backwards-thinking parents just can't even bear to deal with the truth that a Kenyan-American US President (A BLACK MAN - OH MY GAWD) would be addressing their kids on a video screen in the classroom. THE HORROR, THE HORROR!!!!
By Undertow (64), Southampton on Sep 9, 09 8:29 AM
Undertow, you are correct. This is about middle class white folks who cannot stand having a black president. So, instead of supporting working people, children and the poor, they align themselves with the radical right. Their hatred and fear has led them to act against their own best interests. Thankfully, they are a minority - a vocal minority - but a minority nonetheless.
By peoplefirst (787), Southampton on Sep 9, 09 8:40 AM
It is true that back in 1991 Democrats launched a congressional investigation into the expenditures involved with the broadcast of Pres. George H. Bush from Alice Deal Jr. High School in DC. The controversy was not regarding the content of the speech. In fact there was no controversy until after the speech. When an article ran in the Washington Post accusing the President of using the broadcast as a political tool or some form of propaganda...Sound familiar? Those were democrats. Bush Seniors ...more
By pstevens (406), Wilmington on Sep 9, 09 10:21 AM
Does anyone remember where President Bush was when the first plane hit the tower?
Sitting in a classroom of a public school. The radical right makes me sick!
By phins (43), East Hampton on Sep 9, 09 10:49 AM
Let's get our facts straight, Hamptons Surfer.

First, the George HW Bush speech came in October 1991 - at the beginning of the 1992 election cycle, and shortly before HW announced he would run for re-election. The Democrat-controlled congress ordered the GAO to investigate whether HW intended the speech as a re-election campaign piece, which would have constituted an inappropriate use of public funds (the decision to investigate was triggered by HW's campaign manager at the time, Marlin ...more
By CoweeDewey (110), East Quogue on Sep 9, 09 11:16 AM
I thought the speech was great although I understood the concerns. I believe there were concerns over the content and the speech may have even been tweaked due to the uproar. The extreme right will always be against the extreme left and the extreme left will be against the extreme right. I can hear all the libs crying bloody hell if bush jr gave that speech. If they looked at the prespeech content they may have hung him
By razza5350 (1911), East Hampton on Sep 9, 09 11:26 AM
The fact of the matter is that some people truly hate everything our President is and stands for. They would protest the opening of a can of tuna if Obama was
involved. Personally, I respect a President who can pronounce words correctly
and speak in complete sentences. You know, kids might just pick up on that.

By ride the truth wave (125), southampton on Sep 9, 09 1:21 PM
1 member liked this comment
And it is my given right to express my belief that these protests are motivated by fear and bigotry.
By peoplefirst (787), Southampton on Sep 9, 09 1:27 PM
I agree with suppose 2 do. MSNBC has been using the race card whenever someone disagrees with the Presidents agenda. I'm pro Obama but I'm also aware of this slippery sloop taking shape. In fact I think it will create more division and hate. No one likes to have their views minimized by being called ignorant or bigoted. Fact is most people do not listen to Glenn Beck and others unless the talking heads bring it up. Obama's speach was everything it needed to be. It enforced education especially when ...more
By jekgbs (35), East Hampton on Sep 9, 09 1:32 PM
i just had to look up hyperbole and how dare you suggest that i am guilty of using such a thing. 8 years of bush you were all so angry, now you've got a majority everwhere including the media...and angrier still! bush was a very weak prez, and the chairman's speach to the kiddies was superb. but the irony of him preaching personal responsibility when none of his past or present written/spoken history nor any of his legislation encourages it. now stop it with the name calling, you're giving me ...more
By hamptons surfer (79), southampton on Sep 9, 09 7:15 PM